Lockdown blues haunt diasporans returning to UK

I WILL set the scene. I’m in a hotel room on the outskirts of Heathrow. There’s the occasional buzz and thunder of a plane landing and taking off. I’m banging against the windows. Don’t land! The bed is unmade and a half open suitcase lies in a corner, its contents strewn all over almost like permanent features of the room.

Mufaro Makubika
UK-BASED ZIMBABWEAN

My eyes are bloodshot and the tracks of tears line my face. I gaze wistfully outside. Headlights of cars drift by slowly in the distance. There are people in those cars. People on the move. Where are they going, I wonder? I don’t really care. I wish I was in one of those cars. Going somewhere. Far away from this place. How long have I been here? I have lost count of time. The seconds, minutes hours and days fold into each other over and over again. Time is so bloody slow! I’m going to make a run for it, jailbreak style. I’m busting out! I open the door and a burly G4S security guard looks at me. His face says it all. It’s not worth it mate.

What’s this nightmare I’m describing? It’s the new lockdown policy that has been proposed by Boris Johnson’s government that is causing my consternation and anxiety for potential travellers arriving into the United Kingdom. The thinking is that to further contain the spread of Covid-19 virus variants from all over the world air travellers would be forced to isolate in specially designated hotels near Heathrow Airport for up to 10 days. The UK has this week recorded the lowest infections rate for Covid-19 in a month. A huge step for the beleaguered kingdom. The government is keen to preserve these gains made.

This policy idea isn’t radical at all, the reader might have already noted. It’s already been enforced around the world during last year’s lockdowns. Last year Zimbabwe required all foreign visitors to quarantine for up to eight days on arrival into the country.

There was a glut of lodges and hotels ready and willing to offer this service. At the time it was quite lucrative gig for them. The policy was gradually phased out with negative PCR tests being the standard for entry into the country. Countries like Australia and New Zealand have had this policy in place for a while now.

Recently, a few tennis stars currently in Melbourne for this year’s first Grand Slam have expressed discontent at the policy as they are being forced to quarantine for up to 19 hours a day for up to two weeks; only being allowed out a few hours a day to practice. The sport’s biggest global star Roger Federer has opted to pull out of the tournament due to the policy.

Israel has gone one step further, banning all flight in and out of the country. Maybe further restrictions also might come into force on the Zimbabwe side of the equation.

What makes this policy choice even tougher is that the hotel stay will be covered by the traveller at up to a cost of £1 000 for the 10 days. Whispers have suggested that this could last up to a year. Both these tenets in the policy are very significant indeed. I’d like to think £1 000 is also a significant amount of money to most people.

One in 10 Brits has no life savings at all. A third of Brits has less than £600 in savings, with the average savings being £6 757. In my description of the average Brit, I’m also including diasporans from all over the world resident in the country including Zimbabweans.

People of colour (meaning all non-whites) not only are at the brunt force of the virus when it comes to infections and death but also economically. During this period last year, people of colour where 26 times more likely to be laid off due to the effects of the virus than their white counterparts. In short, this virus is hitting our health as well as our pockets disproportionately.

What does this all mean? Air travel between the UK and Zimbabwe will look very different over the coming months. It won’t be an end but a massive pause. The huge financial hit added on top of already expensive air travel will force many people to stay put. Less diasporans and tourists will be travelling between the two nations.

The reader might suppose the argument that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic so international travel should not even be an option; let us wait until we have a grip on the pandemic before we think about international travel and I buy that argument completely.

Let me paint a different picture for the reader though. The one thing that haunts most diasporans is the dreaded call from home that a close loved one has passed on whilst you are away. It’s a nightmare that haunts me. The nightmare in this case will be further intensified by the restrictions of this new policy and the added cost. Agonising and heartbreaking choices will have to be made by the individual.

I can imagine some individuals will stay put unable to travel. Grief stricken abroad unable to return and fully mourn their loved ones. Their isolation will feel sharp and cold, so will their grief. The reader should note I am aware in Zimbabwe there are also restrictions making travel to mourn family equally hard. It is the nature of the beast this crisis has created that is so painful for many to accept.

It is everybody’s duty during this health crisis to preserve life. We all have a part to play. I can’t help to imagine and feel for that individual in a hotel room near Heathrow having returned from burying a loved one. Alone and isolated, feeling the bluest blues imaginable. The pain. The anguish.

What scenarios this crisis has thrown up no one could have envisioned.